Despite a very big public boost from President Donald Trump and White House officials, a plan to scale back on legal immigration into the United States, and to emphasize more highly skilled workers, faces a tough fight in the Congress, as key Republican Senators quickly signaled their disagreement with the plan.
“The President is all behind this,” Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) told me a few hours after he joined with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and the President at the White House on their bill, nicknamed the “RAISE” Act.
“This was a landmark event to get started on an issue that was a seminal issue for him in the campaign,” Perdue added.
“What we’ve got to do right now is get some support for it,” Perdue acknowledged, as some of the early red flags against the idea were raised by fellow Republicans in the Senate.
“I’ve always supported merit-based immigration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
“Unfortunately, the other part of this proposal would reduce legal immigration by half, including many immigrants who work legally in our agriculture, tourism and service industries,” Graham added, noting worries about the impact on his state’s agriculture, tourism and service sectors.
“The solution for stagnant wages isn’t reducing legal immigration,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL).
“We can do better,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). “Limiting legal migration isn’t the answer.”
Even more ominous was the opinion of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).
Statements like that raised questions about whether an immigration-related bill could really be the President’s first major legislative victory in the Congress – and whether there is even time to act on it, given the summer break for lawmakers until Labor Day, and then the September that will be packed with debates on the budget, taxes, the debt limit, and a possible government shutdown.
“This is not going to be an easy thing,” Perdue acknowledged.
As for Democrats in Congress, they didn’t take long to make clear their strong opposition to the plan.
“From the start, President Trump has pushed a hateful, senseless anti-immigrant agenda that instills fear in our communities, weakens our nation, and dishonors our values,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“This dumb proposal would have barred my family,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). “I grew up with lots of Polish and Italian neighbors. It also would have barred many of them.”
As for legislative action, Perdue said that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) would introduce a companion bill in the House; it was not immediately clear if the House Judiciary Committee would act on the bill this fall.